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People who suffer with chronic pain often have other symptoms than just the pain. A lot of this can depend on the cause and source of pain, but there are some common symptoms that people suffer and which are often surprising for others to understand. In this short blog series, I am looking at some of the surprising symptoms of chronic pain, how they affect me, and what I am doing to help manage things. In this first post I talk about anxiety.
How chronic pain causes anxiety¹
Everyone naturally suffers from some sort of anxiety, it is a part of life, but for people with chronic pain, it is probably the most common symptom other than the pain itself.
This is because pain is a sign of danger and that something is wrong in the body and it alerts us to do something about it. As a result, the pain causes the nervous system to respond with the fight, flight or freeze response, caused by a rush of adrenaline. This naturally causes our bodies to have feelings of fear, apprehension and nervousness.
With acute pain, this response can be a good thing and it means we can get the help needed to prevent further injury. But for those with chronic pain (pain that lasts longer than 6 months), this response can cause anxiety and avoidance which can become chronic over time. And it’s a viscious circle in that the anxiety causes a constant sense of fear and apprehension, which causes more focus on the pain, which leads to more anxiety.
Symptoms of anxiety
Further symptoms can occur as a result of this anxiety, including:
- muscle tension causing more pain
- imagining the worst-case scenarios and fearing the worst might happen (also called catastrophizing)
- being easily startled
- restlessness and fatigue
- irregular heartbeat
All of these can be a detrimental to daily life and can make the anxiety itself, as well as the chronic pain, even more harder to manage. As a result, people with chronic pain often pull back from social situations and activity and become more withdrawn, isolated and inactive.
I’ve always been quite an anxious person, but this seems to have spiralled so much since my surgery to have my coccyx removed. I just thought it was because I had spent lots more time at home where I find it easier to manage my pain, but the above theory about how chronic pain can impact on our nervous system really makes a lot of sense, so I’ll go along with that. I’ll also stop beating myself up about being so anxious about stuff from now on. I think now I can understand things better, then I’ll find it much easier to accept it.
What I’m doing to help manage my anxiety
I’m not an expert on anxiety by any means, but I am hoping to learn much more through my blog research and future blog posts. I certainly do try and help make things easier for myself as much as I can and do everything I can to help control and reduce my anxiety so that it doesn’t take over my life – I have enough to cope with having chronic pain. So as much as my anxiety is a natural impact of my daily pain, and I do find it challenging, and it seems I will always have it, I want to feel in control of it as much as I can. I’m certainly not there yet and still have some work to do, and as I mentioned in my blog post My 2018 goals, I am spending some time this year trying reduce my anxiety. The below are a few of the things I’m doing:
The first book I’m reading is The Anxiety Journal by Corinne Sweet. It is a journal where you can complete different exercises and write in the book, but it also gives some good explanations about anxiety and provides some practical CBT and mindfulness techniques to help with day-to-day worrying.
Keeping busy and Distraction
I find when I don’t do anything, my mind is constantly ticking over with thoughts of the past and my predictions for the future. This is neither productive nor helpful. To try and stop these thoughts I am keeping myself busy and distracting my mind from thinking too much. I am doing this by filling my thoughts with other stuff instead – reading (and not just anxiety books), puzzles, cooking, and doing my blog work – from my planning, getting organised, and doing my research, to writing my blog posts, managing and scheduling my social media, and responding to the comments that I receive.
It’s all stuff to focus on other than wasting my time and energy on thinking and worrying about things. The time I’m finding most challenging is in the night when I can’t sleep, so I have some work to do here. I can definitely feel the difference already though, and although the worries are still there, they aren’t at the forefront of my mind and driving me crazy.
I love going for a walk in the sunshine and fresh air, and even in the rain if it’s not too cold or windy. Sometimes I’ll take my two Westies, Milo and Wesley, or sometimes I’ll go on my own, or go for a walk to the shops instead of driving. Walking is brilliant for mental health in general, and again it’s a way of distracting your thoughts. I’ll even listen to a podcast so that I’m even more distracted on my walk.
A few people have recommended CBD oil to me to see if it helps my pain. I’m currently testing out my first bottle taking 2 or 3 drops a day, but so far it doesn’t seem to be helping my pain. I’ve also been told it can help anxiety, so I’m sticking with it for now to see how things go. I’ll be writing a blog post about CBD oil so keep an eye out for it in the future.
I mentioned in my blog post What’s in my chronic pain survival kit that I use a This Works product called Stress Check Breathe In spray to help with stress and anxiety. I love this little bottle and I carry it everywhere with me. I also use the Pillow Spray to help me get a goodnight sleep. See my recommended products links below.
I’m also using some other products by another favourite brand of mine, Tisserand. They do a whole host of essential oil roll-on products that are designed to help with specific things like, stress, confidence, energy, and focus.
I use most of them at different times of the day depending on how I am feeling and what I am struggling with. They smell lovely, are so easy to use, and can be popped in a pocket or bag.
Here are a few of the products that I use and recommend.
Do you have chronic pain and anxiety? How do you help manage things and what products do you recommend? Reference:¹Information in this section dapted from the website
https://www.instituteforchronicpain.org/understanding-chronic-pain/complications/anxietyOther posts you may like